×

Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film

A comprehensive if uncritical overview of the U.S. horror genre.

With:
With: Darren Lynn Bousman, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dennis Fischer, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, John Kenneth Muir, George A. Romero, Tony Timpone, Brian Yuzna. Narrator: Lance Hendriksen.

A comprehensive if uncritical overview of the U.S. horror genre, Andrew Monument’s “Nightmares in Red, White and Blue” lends screen form to Joseph Maddrey’s book of the same title. Sure to become a broadcast staple each Halloween, this slick docu is getting a “semi-theatrical” release from Fox Lorber, playing scattered venues this summer; it was released VOD on July 1.

Starting with the 1910 adaptation of “Frankenstein” (which flopped), pic takes a more or less strictly chronological approach, structured by thematic chapter titles identifying cinematic horror trends over the decades. Maddrey’s narration (sonorously voiced by genre fave Lance Hendriksen) identifies various trends as responses to national crises and anxieties: The physical grotesques played by Lon Chaney in the 1920s channeled discomfort with the large number of maimed WWI veterans, radiation-created monsters in the ’50s reflected fear of the bomb, etc.

Horror didn’t really take off until Universal gambled on “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” in the early ’30s. Pic recounts how the studio was so nervous about the former’s chances that it billed it as “The Strangest Love Story Ever Told!” with no hint of supernatural content in original ads. Its exercises for vampire, werewolf, mummy and Frankenstein grew sillier in the 1940s, increasingly targeting kids, while Val Lewton’s psychologically focused thrillers at RKO introduced subtler, more adult forms of suspense.

Maddrey and interviewees recall how the Cold War’s “atomic fear cloud” blanketed the sci-fi-focused 1950s. A new turn toward “savage cinema” was joltingly signaled by Hitchcock’s “Psycho” on the high end and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ drive-in surprise package “Blood Feast” on the low; “Feast’s” unprecedented extreme gore resulted in arrests and confiscations at some venues.

Docu notes how game-changers such as “Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Exorcist,” “Jaws,” “The Omen” and “Alien” brought massive mainstream acceptance to the often marginalized genre. Meanwhile, low-budgeters such as “Night of the Living Dead,” “Last House on the Left” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” upped the ante for horrific content while obliquely commenting on the many sociopolitical divisions of the Vietnam War/Watergate era.

The slasher subgenre officially launched with 1978’s “Halloween,” whose helmer, John Carpenter (one of several leading genre specialists interviewed here), says he never understood why “I was criticized for punishing sexually promiscuous teenage girls.” A subsequent montage of sexually active teens being punished in “Friday the 13th” films really underlines that the docu should have included at least one female commentator, since slasher films in particular have been accused of expressing violent misogyny.

The ’80s homevideo explosion helped generate more adventuresome efforts such as Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” and Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator.” (Frank Henenlotter is strangely overlooked.)

While the focus is primarily on well-known titles and directors, pic does take time to spotlight a few lesser-known gems, such as Bob Clark’s “Deathdream” (1974) and David Cronenberg’s marvelous feature debut, “Shivers,” from the next year; international horror, however, is just briefly touched on.

Things are brought up to date with the current riot of remakes and torture-porn exercises such as the “Saw” series; brief commentary on the xenophobia expressed in “Hostel” reps one of the docu’s rare instances of unflattering analysis.

Fanboys all, the various helmers and other commenters prove invariably entertaining. Clips utilized are mostly high-grade, assembly brisk and colorful.

Popular on Variety

Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film

Production: A Fox Lorber release of a Lux Digital Pictures presentation of a Midnight Movies production. Produced by Joseph Maddrey. Executive producer, Ingo Jucht. Directed, edited by Andrew Monument. Screenplay, Joseph Maddrey, based on his book.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, HD), Mike Bratkowski; music, Paul Casper; sound, Larry Goeb, James Cret Wilson; associate producer, Robert Valding. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, July 4, 2010. (In Deauville, Sitges, Another Hole in the Head film festivals.) Running time: 86 MIN.

With: With: Darren Lynn Bousman, John Carpenter, Larry Cohen, Roger Corman, Joe Dante, Dennis Fischer, Mick Garris, Tom McLoughlin, John Kenneth Muir, George A. Romero, Tony Timpone, Brian Yuzna. Narrator: Lance Hendriksen.

More Film

  • 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    Film Review: 'QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight'

    In one of the intermittent revealing moments in “QT8: Quentin Tarantino, The First Eight,” a documentary about the films of Quentin Tarantino that’s like a familiar but tasty sundae for Quentin fans, we see Tarantino on the set of “Pulp Fiction,” shooting the iconic dance contest at Jack Rabbit Slim’s. As John Travolta and Uma [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content